On the whole we are a pretty conservative bunch in the u.k. in terms of the techniques of fly fishing and the patterns of fly we use. The rules laid down by a variety of angling writers is often taken by us lesser mortals as “gospel” and we slavishly follow their advice. This statement I realise is a little provocative since much of advice offered to novice fisherman is based on practical experience and can provide a sound basis to develop one’s skills.
The trouble starts when the individual limits themselves to following these “rules” even when they are not catching fish since they feel confident in the knowledge that they are doing everything correctly. The result is that the novice (and often not so novice) often falsely believe it is not their technique or fly which is at fault but merely that the fish are not in the feeding mood. One of the major factors which separates a consistently successful fly fisherman from the rest of the pack is that they are willing and able to adapt their style or method to suit the situation which prevails on the day. This might range from a subtle change in technique to a seemingly ridiculous departure from the norm. Another, perhaps more crucial factor, is to pick the right day to go fishing but this is not usually in our control. So what can you do when the going gets tough? Let me start by giving you some examples which break the “normal” rules for fish catching. Over the years I have caught fish, some accidentally and some by desire when all the conventional rules have been clearly broken. We all know the standard techniques for fly fishing for Salmon with big flies up to a couple of inches long. I have caught Salmon on trout and Grayling flies such as Hare’s ear, Grayling bugs, Pheasant tail nymphs and even a size 16 Partridge and Orange spider. It is true to say I have caught more Salmon on the fly Grayling fishing than I ever have fishing specifically for Salmon which probably says a lot about my Salmon fishing abilities. I have even hooked a double figure Salmon Czech nymphing about 2 ft. from legs though on 5lb. leader. The battle I can assure you was all one sided. I once discovered that sea trout in the open sea in Orkney preferred tiny size 14 black spiders to the recommended streamers type flies This was only learned only after I had the “whisper” from a local and would never have tried it otherwise. Dai Parker has hooked a good Salmon on a” san juan “ worm fly and once caught a mullet on a 4 inch polar bear hair streamer fly. They are not supposed to do that but this one did. Finally I found the best fly on a specific day for Bass was a small Greenwell’s glory wet fly after they refused the more conventional Clouser minnows and Lefty’s Deceivers. I could go on and on and I am sure that every fisherman could provide their own examples to add to the list. If you can why not e-mail us so we can share the experience. All these episodes have not been mentioned to say that we should ignore conventional techniques but to point out that the exceptions are frequent enough to perhaps not be exceptions at all. It may that they are unusual simply because they are techniques which work but are never used through conservatism. What I am trying to say is that if you are not catching fish TRY SOMETHING DIFFERENT Do not persist in hope.
Lets look at a subtle change to start with. You are fishing the Usk and spot a few good trout rising steadily. You put on a suitable dry fly (if you are Mike. Weeks it’s a Pheasant tail) cast perfectly several times and fail to bring a hint of response from the fish. What do you do? Some will give up and claim the fish has been “educated” and can spot the flaw in you beautifully crafted fly. Another angler may try a different size fly or pattern.You do this but still you have no luck. It’s a case of back to the drawing board. The first thing to remember is that this fish is a feeding fish and is willing to eat. It is just not willing to eat what you want it to. The next stage is to watch the rise closely. It may be that you see the fish rise but fail to see what it is taking. In fact it appears to be feeding on nothing. The answer is simply that it is not taking flies off the surface of the water but either nymphs rising to the surface or, especially if it is late evening, flies floating flat in the surface film. The answer is not so much a change of fly but the method you use. I have taken a lot of fish using a small “Klinkhammer special” which has a body which hangs just below the surface film of the water. If that fails try a fly which floats in the surface film ie. A spinner pattern. This is likely to be very late in the evening. An old trick much practised abroad is to tie a tiny nymph with a couple of inches of fine nylon to the bend of the dry fly so that it hangs just a few inches below the water’s surface. This tactic works particularly well in faster water .The dry fly acts as a bite indicator though you still usually see the rise to the nymph. In Canada I use this method extensively and expect to hook at least 50% of my fish on the nymph. There are other methods you can try but these form a good basis for experiment.
If the above example represents a fairly subtle change then how about a more radical change with the possibility of more fun and satisfaction. I well remember my first visit to the Canadian Rocky Mountains in search of Cutthroat trout. To say it was an education is almost an understatement. Dai and I were introduced to “Desperate Dan” a local fly tier of both formidable physical proportions and manner. He had a enough Polar hair to suffice a complete bear on his garage floor we he used for streamer type flies. We still suspect he killed it with his bare hands. He tied us Welsh pansies some flies “for the mountains” which at first we thought were simply copies of himself. The small collection contained “nymphs” up to 2 inches long with rubber legs. The dry flies were mostly made from deer hair and foam on size 6 hooks with yet more rubber legs We thought Dan was taking the —– but later at the fly shops we realised these were in fact the norm. The names of these flies are as interesting as the flies themselves. Terranasty, turck’s Tarantula, Chenobyl ant, Club sandwich. Mutant ninja circarda, and Bow river buggar spring to mind. Do they work? You bet they do. These enormous flies are often tied to represent the large stoneflies(Salmon flies) and grasshoppers which abound in the mountains so perhaps, you have every right to think, they will not work in the U.K. I can confirm that in certain circumstances they really do. I would not use them in the larger sizes but if there are no rising fish and you want to search the water, particularly the faster broken runs then a Chenobyl ant floating above a hungry trout has to be too big a temptation. Remember that most of a trout’s food is taken beneath the surface and it might take a real mouth full to tempt a fish to the surface if there is no hatch on. If you want to try a genuine American fly with an awesome catching ability in fast water then look no further than the Humpy. It works brilliantly in the U.K.
Also remember that big trout eat lots of fish. Whenever I leave the bottom of the main run at Llan farm as it gets really dark I will see large trout shoot back out to the depths. What are they after? There are some very big trout in the Usk that we rarely if ever see. The Americans have great faith and with justification in the woolly bugger fly. It is a bait fish imitation and Dai has found it works well on Talybont reservoir. One of these nights I am going to wade down as far as I can into the main pool at Llan farm cast my size 6 black woolly buggar on a sinking line and hang on.